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Who is Viktor Bout, known as the ‘Merchant of Death’, Released in Exchange for Brittney Griner

By: Shankhyaneel Sarkar

News18.com

Last Updated: December 09, 2022, 11:43 IST

New Delhi

Bout earned the moniker of ‘Merchant of Death’ because he armed warring sides in conflict zones across the planet (Image: Reuters File)

Bout earned the moniker of ‘Merchant of Death’ because he armed warring sides in conflict zones across the planet (Image: Reuters File)

Bout is accused of arming dictators, rebels, al-Qaeda and even the Taliban, whom the Soviet Russia was fighting in the 90s, which prolonged wars in West Asia and parts of Africa

The notorious arms dealer Victor Bout arrived in Russia on Thursday, Russian news agencies reported. He was part of the prisoner swap deal which saw Russia release US basketball player Brittney Griner.

Upon reaching Russia, he embraced his mother. “Don’t worry, everything is OK, I love you very much,” Bout reportedly said after reaching Moscow from Abu Dhabi, according to the AFP.

Arrest From Bangkok

Bout was arrested from Bangkok in March 2008 in a sting operation staged by the Drug Enforcement Agency in Bangkok when they posed as potential buyers from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as Farc. The US then extradited him in 2010 and handed him a 25-year prison sentence following his conviction in 2011. He served 10 years in prison from 2012 to 2022 before his release.

Bout has been dubbed as the ‘Merchant of Death’ and has a book and film based on his life of the same name.

British Foreign Office minister Peter Hain nicknamed him as the ‘Merchant of Death’ for supplying arms to warring sides in eastern Europe, Angola, Afghanistan, West Asia, Central African Republic and Sierra Leone among others.

“Bout is the leading merchant of death who is the principal conduit for planes and supply routes that take arms… from East Europe, principally Bulgaria, Moldova and Ukraine to Liberia and Angola,” Hain was quoted as saying by the BBC.

Merchant of Death Who Sustained Wars

Hain further added that the UN exposed Bout as a ‘centre of a spider’s web of shady arms dealers, diamond brokers and other operatives’ who earned from sustaining wars.

Bout claims that despite supplying weapons, he also helped French government with relief measures during the Rwandan genocide and also helped UN peacekeepers on several occasions.

But Bout is accused of using discarded Soviet-made Antonovs and Ilyushins for carrying arms to conflict zones.

He made his fortune by collecting discarded Soviet-made aircrafts scattered across several airports as the USSR collapsed in the 90s. He was born in Tajikistan but is a Russian national.

Observers have also accused him of arming terrorists in West Asia. Bout claims that he armed commanders who were fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, though there are claims that he armed Al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists.

Bout is also alleged to have helped Sierra Leone’s former president Charles Taylor who allegedly abetted war crimes during the Sierra Leone civil war with weapons.

He was also accused of supplying weapons to both parties during periods of unrest in Liberia, Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.

A Manhattan court held him guilty of conspiracy to kill Americans and US officials, delivering anti-aircraft missiles and helping a terrorist organisation in 2011.

Bout’s wife said his return was a true ‘New Year’s gift’ and his mother thanked Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov for ensuring that her son came back home.

Bout is planning to open an exhibition of his paintings in Russia’s second city, Saint Petersburg, in April, news agency AFP reported, citing his wife Alla.

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first published:December 09, 2022, 11:12 IST
last updated:December 09, 2022, 11:43 IST
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